Saturday 30 June 2012

Blanket Apology at the Volly

Local band, Blanket Apology, are playing another gig tonight at the Volunteer in Eastbank Street, Southport.  They played there three or four weeks ago and were immediately offered another booking.  Blanket Apology are basically a blues-influenced rock band led by ace guitarist Mick Cooper, and with new lead singer, Sue Raymond.

They're on at around 9.00 p.m.  The Volunteer sells real ale from Thwaites.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Will Scottish drink-drive bans apply in England?

Click to enlarge chart.
On 1 June I wrote: "The Pub Curmudgeon has recently made an interesting point. If you lose your licence on a visit to Scotland because you have, say 65mg (illegal in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK), you would not be able to drive on English roads even though you had not broken any drink-drive laws that apply in England. Logically, a ban imposed in Scotland for any level below 80mg should apply to Scottish roads only."

I put this question to the Department for Transport, and yesterday, after 23 days, sent them another e-mail stating that they had failed to meet their 20-day target for answers. To be fair, I've received a reply today:

"It is not a matter that the Department for Transport can answer so we have contacted the Scottish Government to see if they can provide the answer. They are not able to respond but have suggested that it is a matter that the Crown Prosecution Service can respond to and so it was sent to CPS on the 20 June. We have not received confirmation from them that they can provide an answer but hope to hear from them in the next couple of days."

I replied that I didn't see how the Scottish Government could adjudicate whether their ban for 50-80mg drink-driving would apply in the rest of the UK, seeing that their jurisdiction is confined to Scotland. I had thought they'd have had an answer ready to send to me - after all, we've had devolution now for 13 years - so I'm quite surprised it has caused this amount of confusion and activity. Still, I'll keep plugging at it and keep you posted.

Monday 25 June 2012

The beer festival that dared not speak its name

There was beer festival in Southport a couple of weeks ago that I didn't report about on this blog, and which very few people I've come across were aware of. It was part of the Southport Food and Drink Festival, put on by Sefton Council. I had looked at their website, but these were all the details that were there: "The Real Ale Festival will feature an excellent range of locally brewed cask conditioned Real Ales from Southport Brewery, Liverpool Craft Beer Co. and  Peelers Brewery, all served by local favourite the Ship & Mitre. A bespoke collection of the Ship & Mitre's favourite continental bottled beers will also be available including the famous Strawberry Fruli and Erdinger."

I've no idea how sales went, but as publicity goes, that is pretty feeble, and as far as I know, the local branch of CAMRA wasn't notified. I didn't mention it on this blog because there were absolutely no details on the website or in the programme: no mention of opening times, not even whether it opened in the evenings or just during the day, and no indication how many beers might be available or what the venue was like: indoor, outdoor, any seating? Other than it was happening, there was nothing to write about.

The festival was held in Princes Park, which is by the Prom, a bit of a hike from the town centre. I don't know whether the organisers were under the delusion that all you have to say is "beer festival" to get the real ale drinkers running, but those of us with quite a bit of experience in the field can vouch that it's not as simple as that. In the event it was in a small beer tent, you'd have been drinking outdoors from plastic glasses, and from what I can judge there was not much shelter from the elements. There are some pictures on the Ship and Mitre Appreciation Society's Facebook page: click here.

Pity; a bit of a lost opportunity, I feel.

Friday 22 June 2012

The Lost World Of Smoking

Hollywood starlet Sheila Terry
Please note:  this is not about the smoking ban, which I’ve written about previously.*  

I grew up with smoking. Many of my relatives smoked, including my mother and grandmother, and although my father didn’t, he worked for over 45 years in the tobacco industry. Films and television were full of people smoking, and adverts for cigarettes could be seen everywhere. Many of my student friends, including my girlfriend, smoked and, although I’ve never tried even one cigarette, I let people smoke in my room. When I got a job in the DHSS, smoking was allowed everywhere in the office, and the desks all had glass ashtrays with “Government property” stamped on them.

Smoking was sophisticated - glamorous Hollywood stars made it look so – and offering a cigarette was the mark of good hospitality. Accordingly, there sprung a whole world of paraphernalia around smoking: cigarette holders, cigarette cases, both portable and larger ones on the coffee table, expensive lighters, both pocket lighters and table lighters put out for guests to help themselves. Most lighters you see nowadays are plastic and disposable. Pipe and cigar smokers had accoutrements and rituals of their own. In places like the pub, smokers offered their cigarettes around the company before lighting up themselves, and the scroungers who always took one but never bought their own were well-known, in much the same way as everyone knows the drinker who joins in rounds but never puts his hand in his pocket. Funny how they seem to think no one notices.

Liberated? Looks like it. 
Sophisticated? Not a chance. 
Harry Windsor's ex, Chelsy Davy
As a child, I liked the designs on cigarette packets: the Player’s Navy Cut sailor, the horseman firing a rifle on Rough Riders, Senior Service showing a sailing ship, and later the more stylish Benson and Hedges Gold and John Players Special with gold lettering on a black background (modern packets don't seem as attractive to me - perhaps they're reflecting the health lobby's increasingly vocal disapproval by not appearing too eye-catching). Many times as children we went around the cigarette factory where my father worked, watching the process that began with raw leaves and ended with sealed packets of cigarettes.

Smokers would often say to us kids, with a knowing smile to the other adults in the room, that it was a filthy habit and “you don’t want to start, son.” Do as I say, not as I do, probably the least effective advice you can give. In the shops you could even buy sweet cigarettes in packets that looked just like real cigarette packets, and of course we pretended to smoke them. Imagine the moral panic today: "Sending all the wrong messages to impressionable young children!" As if we wouldn't know the difference. But smoking was completely normal then: until the 1980s when smoking bans began, the only place I can recall that smoking wasn’t allowed was in the classroom. In my school, the pupils used the time-honoured location of behind the bike sheds and the teachers used their common room. You could always tell which teachers smoked because their predictable tweed jackets had the musty smell of old smoke, but you thought nothing of it. 

My father told me that the cigarette industry in the 60s was preparing itself for the legalisation of marijuana. They had brand names, packet designs and recipes all ready to go: all that was needed was the lawmakers to do their bit, which of course never happened. I asked him whether he could get me one of the prototype marijuana cigarette packets for interest, but he told me that they had all been destroyed when it was clear that legalisation wasn’t going to happen. I assume that, as the tide turned away from the possibility of legalised marijuana, the industry didn’t want people to know that they had ever taken the idea seriously.

For a few years, I was a section supervisor in the DHSS, and for a while in charge of five staff who all smoked. Although not anti-smoking, I did find this uncomfortable, but it never occurred to me to complain, as I knew it was permitted. Then in the mid-80s, the department introduced a policy of smoking rooms. I thought this was a wonderful solution: the office air was clear, but smokers could have smoking breaks when they needed them. Everyone was happy. Except they weren’t: the 80s was the decade when the general acceptance of smoking as a part of everyday life began to break down. As the office union rep, I had non-smokers demanding I take up with management the fact that smokers had smoking breaks and they didn’t. I pointed out to these disgruntled members that they could, and did, take time to go and make drinks, but the reply was that smokers could do both. I wasted my breath arguing that we now had a smoke-free office, and wasn’t that good? It was, certainly, but not good enough. I finally gave up trying to persuade them and said that what the smokers were doing was allowed by departmental policy, and that was the end of the matter. Any complaints that some smokers took excessively long breaks I bounced back to them: they should take it up themselves with the manager who was being too lenient, because I was not prepared to fire their bullets for them. But they never did, as they didn’t want to fall out with their smoking colleagues; much better if I was the villain instead.

As a non-smoking union rep, I often had to stand up for the rights smokers had under DHSS (later DSS, then DWP) policies. When the DWP introduced a complete ban in all their buildings less than 12 months before the national smoking ban, I issued a union circular questioning why they had jumped the gun, which seemed to me unnecessary at that late stage. I concluded that our employer simply couldn’t resist one last opportunity to annoy staff on the matter.

Nowadays, the image of smoking is completely different from its earlier Hollywood sophistication. Smoking is banned in all buildings except private homes, thus pushing it onto the streets and - ironically - placing it much more on public view than before. Once when walking to a DWP office in Bootle for a meeting, I saw a large group of people standing in the street outside a Home Office building. I assumed it was a picket line and wondered why I hadn’t heard they were on strike. Then I twigged: they were smokers.

Next month sees the fifth anniversary of the ban. I’ve become so used to it that when I watch a film or TV programme over five years old, it looks odd to see people smoking in offices, restaurants and pubs. But then it also looks odd in programmes like The Sweeney to see police lifting out bottles of Scotch from their filing cabinets and drinking at their desks; I remember some old DHSS hands doing that in the 80s, but you’d face disciplinary action if you tried it now.

The people I have come across who are most intolerant of smoking are ex-smokers. Many years ago I had a girlfriend who was vehemently anti-smoking and wasn’t afraid to say so, to the point that I occasionally felt uncomfortable listening to her going on about it in company. Several years after we finished, I came across her smoking in a pub – she had taken the habit up again. I had some fun reminding her of what she used to say, and she had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed.

This is just a meandering and quite personal view of smoking and how it has gone in my lifetime from being seen as a sign of maturity to something that is barely tolerated. My final observation will be, as someone who often goes to pubs and whose circle of friends includes smokers and non-smokers, that I find there is generally less intolerance on both sides in real life than you would conclude from the on-line debating society.

* If you want to see my previous posts about the ban, click here.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Ewan McLennan gig in Southport

This Sunday 24 June, the Bothy’s guest singer is young Scottish singer-guitarist Ewan McLennan who has previously appeared in Southport at Place To Be last year, where I saw him and was very impressed.  He has been performing at many festivals, clubs, and concert halls across the country over the last couple of years, and Radio 2’s Mike Harding has said, “I was completely and utterly bowled over … one of the most exciting new voices I’ve heard in years”.

He won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Newcomer, and Martin Simpson has said of him: “Only once in a while do you hear a new voice, a new sound that is really worth listening to. Ewan McLennan is definitely one such.”  Praise indeed from an artist who has himself been nominated many times for Radio 2 folk awards, winning Artist of the Year twice.

“As soon as I heard Ewan's debut album, I could tell he has a talent far beyond his years, and I'd surely recommend this date to anyone with a regard for meaningful songs that tell a story. He has one or two own-write songs though it's mainly tried and tested material in which he specialises, but anyone doubting the power and relevance of traditional song to modern-day life would be well advised to cock an ear in his direction.” Clive Pownceby writing in 2011 about the Place To Be gig.

Ewan's CD Rags and Robes was awarded four stars in Mojo magazine.

The Bothy Folk Club meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS at 8.00 p.m.  On-line tickets available here. The venue sells real ale (Thwaites Wainwright), currently at £2 a pint during June. 

P.S. I've just noticed that this is my 666th post on ReARM.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Belvedere ~ folk in the afternoon

I've recently heard about a new singaround in The Belvedere, just off Falkner Street in Liverpool every Thursday afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. - it's clearly not designed for people with day jobs, then.

The pub is in the city's Georgian Quarter (you can see it on this map that I found on the Roscoe Head's website). Yesterday it was serving three local real ales and a Scottish brew: 24 Carat Gold and Josephine Butler, both from Liverpool Organic Brewery, Brimstage Sandpiper from the Wirral, and Caledonian Flying Scotsman from Edinburgh. The Belvedere itself is an attractive Georgian pub in a small cul de sac off Falkner Street, not far from the Philharmonic (both the hall and the pub) and the famous Ye Cracke.

Monday 18 June 2012

Ssshhh! Secret Widnes beer festival

Not a festival I've heard of before. Keep it under your hat - it's so secret that they've produced flyers!

Saturday 16 June 2012

Southport Beer Festival 2012

At a recent CAMRA meeting, I asked whether we were going to have a new design for our beer festival  poster instead of the one we'd had for several years. "Why?" was the reply, "Are you offering to design it?" Which I suppose serves me right for opening my mouth. Anyway, here it is (it's also on the Southport beer festival page on this blog); I hope it's okay. As you can see from the little map, the venue's very close to the station.

Click on poster to enlarge.

Thursday 14 June 2012

"Toasting England could ruin your life"

Under this headline in one of our free papers, our local Inspector Knacker says, "We appreciate that people may like to enjoy a drink on an evening, especially with the Euros [i.e. football] on, but if they are going to do that they shouldn't then get behind the wheel of a vehicle." I was expecting "if they think they may be over the limit" at the end of that sentence, but it wasn't there. The report also states that "In the last four years, June has seen ... 889 collisions where alcohol or drugs have been a contributory factor", which is clearly information supplied by the police. Hang on a moment there - drugs? I thought we were talking about people slipping over the limit during the enthusiasm of watching a match? I've never seen anyone shoot up, smoke dope or pop pills during a match in a pub. So now we've dragged in an illegal activity too, in the hope that the hostility many people have towards illegal drug use will rub off on alcohol: a form of guilt by association (it also handily bumps up the numbers too). Not only that, I'm suspicious of the phrase "contributory factor": obviously this means that some of the drivers had been drinking, but if so, how many were over the limit? Also, how many of these accidents were caused by the alcohol? It is possible to have a drink and be involved in an accident which was entirely someone else's fault. Do these stats take such factors into account; I really doubt it, and if I'm right, then they are seriously misleading, and I don't think that's an accident either.

I do not approve of driving when drunk (or for that matter under the influence of drugs, but that is beyond the remit I have set this blog), but you'll never see it written anywhere nowadays that drinking and driving is a perfectly legal activity. I rarely do it - usually when I am touring pubs to collect adverts for our local CAMRA magazine - but on the rare occasion I do, I take care to stay within the legal limit. I'm lucky in that I have more than 20 real ale pubs within half an hour's walk of where I live, but some people in more remote locations may have none within reasonable walking distance. Driving to the pub for a couple of slow pints over the course of an evening may the only way they can drink cask real ale (or any pub drink, for that matter), but if such people are made to feel that what they are doing, although completely lawful, is unacceptable, then that opportunity to socialise is removed. An evening of J20s or coffees is not a suitable replacement, as I know from my own recent medically-enforced abstinence. Rural pubs would suffer too, as a lot of their trade is from people in cars. Bus services are often inadequate or non-existent in evenings, and taxis can become prohibitive if used all the time, and certainly not worth the outlay if all you want is a couple of pints anyway.

The problems with drunken killers on the road are not caused by people who carefully make a couple of drinks last all night; they are caused by idiots who will drink copiously irrespective of the drink-drive limit: they'd still drive drunk even if it were zero. These are the people who need targeting, not a football fan who has taken it easy all evening while watching the match (I cover this in more detail here). No sign of any such awareness in Inspector Knacker's preaching to the public, but it would cost the police a lot more to tackle the real morons, who won't take the slightest bit of notice of the article in the paper. So, all in all, a bit of a wasted effort which will only discourage the sensible driver who keeps his drinking within the limit, and does nothing to deal with the real problem. Must do better, Knacker!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Songs in the Lion

An etched window in the Lion.
Acoustic music in the fine Victorian surrounds of the Lion Tavern; that's what my singaround there is about. With Moorfields Station just across the road and eight changing real ales, not only is it easy to get to, it's also hard to drag yourself away from. If you want to perform yourself, you're welcome to, but it's not compulsory.

From about 8.30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) night and on every second Thursday of the month.

Friday 8 June 2012

More local pub news

The Albert - new real ale venue (again)
Driving through Downholland the other day, I passed the Scarisbrick Arms. This canalside pub was closed for several years until it was refurbished and reopened 2 or 3 years ago as a pub-restaurant. It sold real ales but was never really successful, at least in pub terms. It has recently been refurbished yet again and has reopened as the Gastro Bar and Grill with no real ales. Although it's been struggling for years, it's still sad to see this local landmark lost as a pub.

Dave Williams tells me that the The Upsteps in Birkdale has been closed for a couple of weeks with a For Sale advertising a business opportunity to be your own boss. I'm not surprised that PubCos are finding it harder to get people to fall for that enticing-sounding line; their reputation increasingly precedes them. I remember our acoustic music sessions in that pub a few years ago, at which time it used to sell Coach House beers regularly, the only Southport pub to do so. As Dave says, "Another pub closure waiting to happen soon I suspect." This leaves the non-real ale Blundell Arms down the road as the only pub currently operating in that part of Birkdale.

The Albert Hotel by Southport station has put real ale on yet again. Good luck to them; I must pop in some time.

Our old Yates's Wine Bar on Lord Street became the Slug and Lettuce, before closing down completely a couple of years ago. It has been reopened as The Sandgrounder Bar, a name I'm surprised hasn't been used before for a pub. It apparently is selling Southport Sandgrounder at £2.20 a pint. I'm told the pub is aimed at the sports-loving drinker with multiple televisions, so my visits are unlikely to be frequent. Still, I'll have a look.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Cara Luft in Southport

Canadian Cara Luft (and not as one wag had it, Lara Croft) will be appearing at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday. She was a founder member of the Wailin' Jennys (whose name is apparently a play on Waylon Jennings), and is probably one of the few folk-based artists to cite acts as diverse as Buddy Holly, Yes, and Led Zeppelin as influences. For instance, she does a version of Black Water Side that combines the sung version of Bert Jansch with the instrumental Black Mountainside by Jimmy Page (which was ultimately derived - uncredited - from the Jansch version anyway). Her new album, Darlingford, is out this month and will probably be on sale at the gig.

You can see her on Sunday 10 June at 8.00 p.m. in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Tickets available on-line here. Here is a video of Cara playing at the Cambridge Folk Festival:

Monday 4 June 2012

Guest House singaround tonight

If anyone's at a loose end tonight, why not come to the Guest House for my monthly singaround? I shan't be singing any jubilee songs, and I'd be surprised if anyone else will. From around 8.30 p.m. The Guest House is in Union Street, Southport.

I understand that they're currently serving the following beers:
Lytham Blonde 3.8%, Ahtanum 4.3%, Black Sheep 3.8%, Theakston Best Bitter 3.8%, The Rev. James 4.5%, Black Cat 3.4%, Dark Night 3.9%, Tiger 4.2%, Ruddles Best 3.7%, Wainwright 4.1%, Butcombe Bitter 4%.

There's also a singaround in the Mason's Arms, Anchor Street, Southport, on Wednesday, but other commitments may stop me going. The beer is usually Robinson's Unicorn.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Blanket Apology last night in the Coronation

I went to see Blanket Apology last night; it's a rock band led by my friend Mick Cooper, in whose recording studio I have recorded quite a few songs. Mick is a great guitarist but doesn't sing, so the band has had a succession of female lead singers. They now have a new one, Sue Raymond, who, unlike her predecessors, also plays rhythm guitar. This immediately creates a different dynamic: the singer appears more as part of the band, rather than being backed by a band. I liked her singing, and she has a good on-stage persona, chatting to the audience and joking with the others in the band. Mick Bennett on drums and Ronnie Clark on bass complete the line-up, and I have had fun in the past jamming with them all playing old rock & roll numbers. The roots of the band are mostly in soul, blues and R&B, and their mixture of originals and well-known covers and went down well with the small but appreciative audience there. Personally I thought the vocal was too low in the mix (and said so, but they're still talking to me), but perhaps that's what happens when a band is led by a guitarist! Future gigs by Blanket Apology are listed in my What's On page.

The Coronation serves Greene King IPA at £2.45 a pint, and also sometimes Old Speckled Hen, but not last night. A copy of a tabloid on the bar screamed that, "Britain goes bonkers with jubilee fever". Not last night in the Coronation it didn't, nor in the Guest House later where I went after the gig. It just seemed like an ordinary Friday night to me.

I'm listening to their rather good promo CD as I type this, called "26 of the Best", with (astonishingly) 26 tracks. CDs are on sale at their gigs.

Friday 1 June 2012

My Darling Clementine - in Formby

My Darling Clementine are the next guests at Formby Americana club, Grateful Fred's. They are husband and wife team Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish.

Michael is a British singer-songwriter who's been admired by the likes of Chris Hillman, Ron Sexsmith, Jackie Leven and the legendary Townes van Zandt, who recorded one of his songs. He draws his influences from a wide range of styles: from pop, folk, country, soul, gospel and blues. Lou was a dancer and actor with TV and film roles in her 20s; she is now a singer-songwriter who has been praised by, and worked with, the likes of Elvis Costello, Bryan Ferry, The Brodsky Quartet, and many more.

What the papers say:
"Michael Weston King has a voice part Nashville balladeer and part Alt Country hero ... a cross between Nick Cave and Rodney Crowell." The Independent.
"In his craft and his perfections, MWK closely resembles Ron Sexsmith.  A pair of insufficiently recognised performers who see no call to lower their standards." Bucketful of Brains.
"As fine a singer songwriter as Gram Parsons." Chris Hillman.

You can see them this Thursday 7 June at 8.00 p.m. - on-line tickets from Grateful Fred's website here. It's at the Formby British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT.

From Braveheart to Nanny

The ruling Scottish Nanny-Statist Party has announced that it will lower the drink-drive limit in Scotland from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg. Sorry to repeat myself, but this is a very effective way of appearing to address a problem without actually doing much at all, and at very little cost too - in other words it's spin, the politician's favourite policy. The real problem with drink-driving is not the person who carefully drinks within the 80mg limit; it is the person who drinks as much as he or she likes, completely ignoring any limits, even a zero one should that be introduced. After a recent accident locally, a young woman who'd survived with injuries described how the young, male, drunk driver, who had killed both himself and someone else, regularly boasted that he could drive better after drinking. I remember certain drivers spouting such nonsense in the 1970s and thought it had gone out with the Bay City Rollers - obviously I was wrong.

The only way such drivers will mend their ways would be if the chances of getting caught were increased significantly because, at present, if you're over the limit and don't cause an accident, it's highly unlikely you'll be stopped. Tackling such drivers would be costly and labour intensive because you'd need many more police officers to identify, apprehend and prosecute them, mostly at night time which entails paying overtime. The cheaper option is to lower the limit, which will only affect those people who are being careful anyway - but you can claim you have done something about drink driving. In the meanwhile, the real damage caused by drivers who are actually drunk, as in the tragic instance above, remains untouched.

The Pub Curmudgeon has recently made an interesting point. If you lose your licence on a visit to Scotland because you have, say 65mg (illegal in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK), you would not be able to drive on English roads even though you had not broken any drink-drive laws that apply in England. Logically, a ban imposed in Scotland for any level below 80mg should apply to Scottish roads only. But will it? I seriously doubt it myself, but I'll try to find out for certain; I'll let you know how I get on.